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Robert Mugabe: An Intellectual Manqué and His Moments of Meaning

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Abstract

Mugabeism that is invoked in this book is about what Mugabe and the context that in many ways he has created “mean” for Zimbabwean and perhaps African society at large: what do his persona and his actions “say” about Africa and its world; what do they evoke; how do they symbolize; how do they resonate with; how do they illustrate some of the uniquely configured cultural, social and political attributes of this very complex world? Do we (those of us obsessed with Zimbabwe’s history and contemporaneity) see “Africa”—and closer to home, Zimbabwe—through his actions any differently than we did before he entered our space? If so, how? And if not, how has he reinforced positive notions of “radical” negation of the colonial negation, less enticing notions of “the dark continent” as it crawls its way through the violent transitions of primitive accumulation (Moore 2003a, 2004a, 2011a)—or simply buttressed a postcolonial fatigue with grand narratives in the face of multifaceted networks of power. In any case we ask, with this book’s editor: is there ideology that could be called “Mugabeism”? Is it perhaps a political-philosophical system applicable to the consciousness of the whole continent and even beyond (Bell and Metz 2011)?
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‘When I am a century old’:
why Robert Mugabe won’t go1
David Moore
What stops Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe from retiring? Why will he
not join the increasing number of his peers in undertaking worthy activities
around Africa and elsewhere? Could he be excused his past misdemeanours and
be whisked away to a large villa from where he would emerge occasionally to
dispense the wisdom he is assumed to have gained from his youthful excesses?
If he has been offered this option, why has he refused? Why, in 2005, in spite
of an opposition party that would have won the three elections held since 2000
had they been ‘free and fair’, does he not falter: why is he so desperate to cheat?
What prevents the members of his own party, the Zimbabwe African National
Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), wracked by internecine struggles borne of his
inability to anoint a successor, from abandoning their captain to save their ship?
Why cannot the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC),
and its allies in Zimbabwe’s sophisticated civil society get it together to get him
out? Why, in the context of an economy for which even the phrase ‘free-fall’ is
inadequate (Hill 2005: 71–81; International Crisis Group 2004), is there not
simply a mass uprising? And why, as many south of the Limpopo River ask,
does the rest of the world – ranging from themselves to the rest of Africa, to the
ubiquitous but ill-defined ‘international community’ – essentially do nothing to
hasten the old man’s departure (Freeman 2005; Phimister 2004)? How has he
remained in power for more than a quarter of a century?
This chapter is not about successful efforts to persuade or force an African
president past his sell-by date to the sidelines of the power bloc in which
he is embedded. For this book’s purposes might Robert Mugabe and his
Zimbabwe be the exception proving transitional Africa’s rule? Perhaps not:
as a once enthusiastic promoter of the ‘democratic transition’ idea writes,
Africa has not gone far past the ‘big man’ syndrome (Carothers 2003: 9, 14).
Mugabe’s hanging-on skills may be more symptomatic of general trends
than the brushing aside of a few heads of state, allowing them to remain
6
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in impunity while their successors’ path stays the same. This study, then, is
instructive in the quest for quiescent retirement in Zimbabwe and Africa as
a whole – and the factors conditioning this eventuality consistent with broad
democratisation processes. As with the ‘transition literature’ transferred from
Latin America and Southern Europe to South Africa and from there onwards
(Friedman 1993, 2003; O’Donnell, Schmitter & Whitehead 1986a, 1986b,
1986c, 1987; Moore 2005a), a comparative, case study-based literature can
inform those interested in facilitating smoother changeovers from a president
and associated political factions, or, more optimistically, from ‘presidentialism
in its feudal hues to régimes more compatible with thin and thick democracy
(Abrahamsen 1997, 2000; Saul 1997).
Indeed, Mugabe’s intransigence may be precisely because Zimbabwean
opposition to Zanu-PF is more deeply democratic than in most of Africa.
Poised against a ruling party not democratic enough to have developed an
evolutionary and ordered succession procedure (one reason Mugabe does
not leave), the MDC and its base may not allow Mugabe the compromises
facilitating many other African presidents’ departures. They will not allow
a truth and justice commission to slide away (Chan 2005: 54–5) (note the
word ‘justice’ rather than ‘reconciliation’: Mugabe’s critics do not want him
to gain amnesty for his crimes). Moreover, Zanu-PF itself forbids Mugabe’s
departure without assurance it will not implode when he leaves. A ‘retirement
office’ would not suffice, unless it offered him a way to keep the fractious
party together. Mugabe knows no easy sequestration awaits him. Yet, although
his longevity appears not in the opposition’s short-term interest, and means
worsening the economic catastrophe for which ‘Zimbabwe’ has become
synonymous, is it better for Zimbabwean democracy in the longue durée?
Unless South Africa forces the parties to a government of national unity or a
Franco-African style national conference blooms magically, the MDC will not
be forced to compromise its principles – no easy way out this time may make
it harder to hang on next time. Meanwhile, deprived of the opportunity of a
period in oppositional renewal, Zanu-PF will sink when it finally goes. This
view may be unduly optimistic: a pessimist wonders how long is long enough.
While Mugabe weathers the storms he has created in his wake, Zimbabwe’s
progress is slowed torturously and millions suffer. Keynes’s dictum about
economic rectitude may hold true for hard-nosed politics: in the long term
everybody is dead.
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Immediate or distant considerations, the questions remain: Why does he stay?
How? Approaching the roots of these problems means moving from structure
to agency more adeptly than social science facilitates. This author has discussed
Zimbabwe’s stalled efforts to go through the process of primitive accumulation
(Moore 2001b, 2001d, 2003, 2004a; see also Davies 2004). In a nutshell, the racially
bifurcated mode of primitive accumulation in Zimbabwe creates a political
powder keg. The vast majority of Zimbabweans have not been fully transformed
by the dialectic of modernity embedded within full agricultural commodification
and proletarianisation – capitalism’s building blocks. Africans’ only partial
incorporation is the ‘twist’ to primitive accumulations tale (Arrighi 1973).
In Zimbabwe’s crises – structural adjustment’s legacy, the poorly solved ‘war
veterans’ issue (Kriger 2003), the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(Nest 2001), and fundamentally the prolonged agony of the unresolved land
question (possibly the root of primitive accumulation’s impasse) – the political
tail wags the socio-economic dog. ‘Revolution, fascistic or otherwise, begins.
That divide’s racial and ‘colonial’ tone gave Zanu-PF’s righteous liberation
discourse enough legitimacy to weather the economic crisis – at least for Zimba-
bwe’s hegemonic interlocutors in the state’s ideological apparatuses fashioning
the propaganda of ‘moral and intellectual leadership’ that supplements their
military comrades’ coercion (Gramsci 1971: 5, 57–8). This is the ‘terrain of the
crisis’ (Saul & Gelb 1986) on which those hastening its resolution act.
At this level one may focus on the ‘the man of the moment’s’ immediate political
options and constraints – while emphasising man and moment are produced
and constrained by the deep structures of Zimbabwe’s unevenly articulated yet
ever-changing and politicised social relations of production. Precisely these
structures ‘freeze’ class transformations so societies such as Zimbabwe are held
in the thrall of ‘Bonapartism’, as Marx (1853) characterised the conditions
allowing one person dictatorial powers. Gramsci’s (1971) ‘Caesarism’ is similar,
adding ‘progressive’ possibilities to his or her hands. Yet, as Gramsci might
have put it, the chances of ‘great men’ ushering in positive transformations at
moments like these are slim. When the old is dying and the new is struggling to
be born, the symptoms are morbid (Gramsci 1971: 276). For structuralists this
creates a contradiction: all history’s weight pulls them into a morass from which
extraction becomes harder and harder, yet the source of all change seems reliant
on the singular condensation of all society’s contradictions. When confronted
with African politics, Marxist and modernisation theory share more similarities
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than they admit. Perhaps Zimbabwe’s main contradiction can be wrapped up
like this: if Mugabe went, the old might die and the birth of the new would be
easier. Structure and agency could meld.
Given these constraints, this chapter is as far as one can go towards the politics
of ‘personal rule’ dominating Africanist’ political science and journalism
(Jackson & Rosberg 1982). Alluring as the psycho-history thus encouraged is,
it helps little. Could one have known by chatting in the 1960s with nationalist
supporter Guy Clutton-Brock that Mugabe would become one of the ‘remarkably
durable rulers’ better at keeping power the longer they are on the job (Bienen &
van de Walle 1989: 32)? Would his observation that Mugabe was a ‘bit of a cold
fish,’ never taking his fiancé to the movies, dissuade potentially quiet Americans
from their protégé (Meredith 2002: 23)? Taking Mugabe’s abandonment by his
father into account, would the Central Intelligence Agency have refused Mrs
Mugabe a London secretarial science scholarship (Meredith 2002: 21; Moore
2005b)? Would strategists have known that Zimbabwe’s unravelling began
when Sarah died and Robert married Grace (Meldrum 2004: 81)? Where does
this leave those planning his exit? Wine appreciation classes to wean him from
Robespierrian rectitude? A sensible mistress? The Democratic Republic of the
Congo (DRC) tactics that rid them of Lumumba, gaining Mobutu (de Vitte
2001; Wrong 2000)? Fortunately, interventionists practise these politics less
frequently now (however, Laurent-Désiré Kabila was killed just 40 years after his
country’s first prime minister). Their analysis, however, may not be better.
When the ‘personalists’ reach out of their individualist traps the only structure
below kingship is ‘tribe’. As Jackson and Rosberg supplement their ‘personal
rule’, in the absence of ‘language, traditions, institutions and so forth…held
in common and…recognised by others as the essence of their nationality’,
ethnicity is the relevant sociological variable. Yet it too can be transcended if a
good leader appears in the clouds. ‘Tribe’ can only be managed by leaders with
sufficient ‘personal authority, political acumen and determination to ‘provide
the equity…necessary to secure popular legitimacy’ (Jackson & Rosberg 1984:
179, 187, 198). Is there a formula to calculate the balance salving kith and kin’s
desires and also meeting their near and distant neighbours’ needs (Londregan,
Bienen & van de Walle 1995)? When that runs out and genocides begin,
the ‘international community’ takes up the white man’s burden, redrawing
national/ethnic maps to help (Jackson 1990; Moore 2001c).2
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One baulks at such an idea, although in Zimbabwe some federalist autonomy
for Matabeleland could help solve one of its maladies. Yet the ‘tribalist’
perspective does lead towards the issue of a lingering presidency: tensions
among the subgroups of the major ethnic group, the Shona, in Zanu-PF’s
leadership. In the absence of ideological or even substantive policy disputes,
struggles among Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika, Ndau and Kore Kore sub-
groups take on more relevance – especially given the late 2004 sidelining of
the ‘Karanga’ faction of its leadership (Sithole 1979; Chinembiri 2005). If
immediate solutions are available out of that minefield – beyond the long-term
nation-building slog, emerging from the birth of a ‘truly’ national bourgeoisie
in the primitive accumulation process – they are yet to be discovered.
The many instances of the intricately structured and historically accumulated
‘events’ simultaneously constraining Mugabe, his allies, and his enemies – yet
forcing them to act – have to be understood, as well as the mercurial qualities
of leadership. The determined, the chanced and the won must be tied together
across state, society and global political economy so that neither overwhelms
the others. The cliché that politics is the art of the possible must be undone:
structures and processes determine the possibilities while art consists of
knowing those elements and being able to build them into power. Mugabe
is a master of the art of structured contingency (Karl in Robinson 1994: 45).
He bends the deep structures behind the political ones to his will. He may
misunderstand the long-term consequences of so doing, or not care. Thus
he has created what amounts to a conspiracy to destroy Zimbabwe, but these
are also the forces conniving to keep him in power. The tragedy is that those
marshalled against him know how these forces keep his hold on power and
strangle all Zimbabwe with it, but they cannot change them. Thus – unless
he ushers himself out of power on his own terms – he will probably remain
where he is, attended by panoplies and panegyrics to his power around his
throne, until he dies, despite his announcement that he will retire at the end
of his presidential term in 2008.
Recounting history
The factors militating against the removal of Mugabe range from the local
to the global spatially, and, temporally, from the present to deep historical
recesses. Thematically, they span the brutal politics involved in creating
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and maintaining networks of economic accumulation’s cold calculus to
the misty sub-terrain of ‘culture, memory and mystical religious tropes.
All add up to a situation where the past and the present’s skeletons and lies
are simply too many to allow the thought of a truth and reconciliation (or
justice) commission, now de rigueur in the politics of transitional justice.
Even promise of remission would not be enough for a man hoist by so
many petards. Guarantees of reprieve would not do, because the common
knowledge of his sins would mean his escape would be tantamount to a guilty
plea. For one who ‘would not hesitate to wreck the organisation [Zanu-PF
– or the whole country], if his self-pride is hurt or if he is hurt personally’
(Horne 2001: 261), the only safe haven is on top. This – and the après moi,
la deluge thinking, of equal import given economic catastrophe and Zanu-
PF’s implosion – explains his disinclination to go. The why and how of his
perpetual power are other questions.
A brief history of the tracks to Mugabe’s ‘personal rule’ is necessary before
listing the current restraints on the exit option, because some of the reasons
behind Mugabe’s intransigence are based on the difficulty of reconciling
historical myth with ‘facts’ (Martin & Johnson 1981; Astrow 1983; Moore
1991). The most important of these occur from the mid-1970s, when Mugabe
climbed his way to Zanu’s leadership while the party was in the midst of the
guerilla war, eventually taking it to state power. First, however, it is necessary
to establish the structures of tension within the party system emerging
before that.
The predecessors to Zanu-PF were born in the context of mine and railway
strikes (‘father of Zimbabwean nationalism’ Joshua Nkomo worked as a
railway union welfare secretary) in the late 1940s, the evolution of an African
petit bourgeoisie, and nationalism in southern Africa. 1957 saw the Southern
Rhodesian African National Congress (SRANC) established, anchored in an
ideology best characterised as ‘Christian socialist’, joining Salisbury’s City
Youth League with Bulawayo’s emerging professionals. However, given the
reluctance of the latter – a handful of lawyers, doctors, journalists and teachers
who played with ‘partnerships’ with white liberals in anti-Communist
organisations such as the Capricorn Society, led by retired Special Air Service
Colonel David Stirling – to lead, a trade union and small businessman-based
leadership emerged, with Nkomo as the SRANC’s compromise leader (Central
African Examiner 18.06.60; Holderness 1985: 99).
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When the professionals finally joined the nationalist movement, it was
stricken by government restrictions, the exigencies of politics increasingly
focused on foreign lobbying, conflicts over compromises from London
constitutional conferences, the extent to which the armed struggle should
be enjoined, generational and ethnic factors, and even the Sino-Soviet
divide. These contributed to a leadership crisis, leading by 1964 to the new
Zimbabwean African National Union led by Ndabaningi Sithole, with Robert
Mugabe appointed publicity, and later, national, secretary. Nkomo remained
head of the Zimbabwean African People’s Union (as the SRANC became
known) until it was swallowed up by Zanu-PF, which had gone on to emerge
victorious through a ‘liberation war’ and the 1980 elections in the new
country of Zimbabwe. Aside from a paper-thin ‘Patriotic Front’, starting in
late 1976 and ending at Mugabe’s command before the 1980 elections,unity’
was never consummated until 1987. The new victorsgukurahundi (‘spring
storms washing away the chaff’) in the mid-1980s destroyed any possibility of
the re-emergence of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) by killing
up to 35 000 Ndebele people and torturing many more, in the search for a few
hundred ‘dissidents’ justifying the terror (Eppel 2004; Catholic Commission
for Justice and Peace 1997). But Mugabe’s personal emergence was in the
mid-1970s.
Between 1964 and 1987, the tensions between the quest for unity and
the efforts of leaders to aggrandise their own power – using political and
ideological resources ranging from ethnic identification to regional and super-
power rivalry – ran through the ostensibly unifying project of a ‘national
liberation’ war and its post-1980 consolidation. In late 1974, a few years after
the armed struggle began in earnest, and with Angola and Mozambique’s
independence threatening ‘communism’ all around them, South African
President John Vorster and his Zambian counterpart Kenneth Kaunda decided
that Ian Smith, leader of the Rhodesian state, and his competitors among the
Zimbabwean nationalists should hammer out a moderate compromise in
a ‘détente’ exercise to be led from Lusaka. This came after generational and
ethnic conflicts in both Zapu and Zanu, including the Front for the Liberation
of Zimbabwe (FROLIZI), formed in 1971 by ‘Zezuru’ members of both
parties (many observers claimed this party finally ‘won’ in 2004!) (Tshabangu
1979; Sithole 1979; Chinembiri 2005). To further complicate matters, within
Rhodesia a group of nationalists under Bishop Muzorewa emerged in 1971
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to contest a British initiative testing opinion on a new Constitution: they too
would either incorporate themselves into the exiled parties or contest power
separately.
Détente led to the release of Zimbabwean nationalist leaders detained in
Rhodesian prisons since 1965. There, Mugabe captured Zanu’s leadership
in what a surprised Samora Machel – freshly installed as president of
Mozambique – called a ‘coup in prison’ (Nyagumbo 1980: 221). That ‘coup
was never confirmed by a full party congress until 1984, long after Mugabe’s
party had gained the Zimbabwean state. The route to that authentication is
simultaneously the root of his need – and ability – to stay in power now. As
Machel’s comment suggests, neither the frontline states (Zambia, Tanzania,
Mozambique, and to a lesser extent Botswana) nor Zanu rank and file
accepted Mugabe’s rise easily – although ‘deposed’ Ndabaningi Sithole’s bad
choices did nothing to slow the usurper. The 1974–79 interregnum marking
Mugabe’s rise up the Zanu hierarchy can be divided into five moments,
all important markers of the difficulties in resigning now and facing up to
their truths.
The first is the still-unsolved March 1975 assassination of Herbert Chitepo, the
party’s national chairman who had shepherded the struggle from its Lusaka
base since 1966. Mugabe remains under suspicion for orchestrating the murder
(Sithole 1979; Martin & Johnson 1981, 1985; Moore 1990; White 2003).
Secondly, Mugabe eliminated a perceived challenge from a group of
ideologically radical and unity oriented ‘young Turks’ who formed the
Zimbabwe People’s Army, taking over the armed struggle while Zanu’s leaders
were imprisoned in Lusaka on the charge of murdering Chitepo and Mugabe
was under house arrest in Mozambique (Moore 1995). Known as the vashandi
(Shona for ‘workers’), they established Marxist training schools and a new
‘line’ for unity. Mugabe appropriated their militant Marxist discourse, but
altered their plans for military unity with Zapu to a looser diplomatic and
political front: thus the ‘Patriotic Front’.
Thirdly, while sidelining the young radicals, he patched together an alliance
of exiled and internal Zanu actors and the army leaders at the October–
December 1976 Geneva Conference, instigated by American Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger to continue the lapsed Lusaka effort. After the Geneva
meetings this alliance dealt with the vashandi challenge in January 1977 by
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sending its leaders to Mozambique’s prison camps. By July a special conference
announced Mugabe and his ‘enlarged Central Committee’s’ ascendance.
Mugabe’s speech warned against
…des tructive or retrogressive or counter-revo lutionary forces…
against progress and so against unity…amongst us who ardu-
ously strive in any direction that mili tates against the party or
who…seek…to bring about change in the leader ship or structure
of the party by maliciously planting contradictions within our
ranks…[T]heir actions are a nega tion of the struggle. We must
negate them in turn. This is…the negation of the nega tion…[T]he
Zanu axe must continue to fall upon the necks of rebels when we
find it no longer possible to persuade them into the harmony that
binds us all. (Mugabe 1977: 13, original emphasis).
Fourthly, within a year Mugabe and his cohorts sidelined a group of politicians
deciding belatedly to champion the vashandi cause and deeper unity with
Zapu. The ‘Hamadziripi-Gumbo Group’ was accused of attempting a ‘coup,
in much the same way as the vashandi have been accused of such. They were
also sent to Mozambican prison camps, where they waited two years for their
pre-independence release.
Fifthly, just as the Lancaster Agreement in London marked the arrival of
majority rule and independence at the end of 1979, the guerilla general
joining Mugabe to rid the party of the young ‘rebels’, but later advocating
unity with Zapu, died in a car accident en route to informing the guerilla
soldiers of their victory. Josiah Tongogara, along with Chitepo, is on the
mystery list rebounding into Mugabe’s court.3
As noted above, ‘unity’ with Zapu happened only after the North Korean
trained ‘Five Brigade’s’ gukurahundi tore the heart out of the party. But before
that, political action undermined Zanu-PF’s desire for unity, harmony and
unchallenged hegemony. University students transformed a demonstration
mourning Samora Machel’s death in October 1986 (possibly engineered by
South African interference with the landing signals sent to his aircraft) into
one against corruption. Three years later, a state newspaper exposed Cabinet
ministers selling cars received at below market rates. After being expelled for his
heated condemnations of similar behaviour, Mugabe’s once-trusted lieutenant
started his own party (Saunders 2000: 41). Edgar Tekere’s Zimbabwe Unity
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Movement – possibly encouraged by Western democracy promoters – opened
Zimbabwe to the idea that opposition parties could be based on other than
‘tribal’ motivations. Its credible urban showing in the 1990 election – marred
by Zanu-PF violence as all such contests have been (Kriger 2005) – also showed
that Mugabe’s politics held more rural than urban appeal.
With ‘structural adjustment’ policies hitting workers at the same time as the
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was weaning itself from Zanu-
PF’s control (Gibbon 1995; Saunders 2001) the stage was set for widespread
opposition to the ruling party. Strikes and stayaways merged with war
veterans’ dissatisfaction with a disability payment plan exposed as a window
for more corruption (as in the instance of a Cabinet minister who made a
claim for thousands of dollars due to ‘mental instability’ caused by the trauma
of the liberation war). However, Mugabe stymied a potential worker–veteran
alliance with his September 1997 accession to the war veterans’ demands for a
Z$50 000 once-off pension payment, Z$2 000 per month thereafter, free
schooling and healthcare, and 20 per cent of the land reform finally promised
– and his decision to impose a surtax to pay for the $Z4.5 billion bill.
Mugabe had found a new ally to replace those he had lost in the mid-
1990s. By November 1997, 1 503 farms were listed for expropriation, and
the Zimbabwean dollar lost 75 per cent of its value. The surtax replaced a
potential working-class/veteran alliance with a state/veterans duo, into which
the Central Intelligence Organisation was inserted. The ZCTU mobilised to
resist the tax. ZCTU leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was beaten to near death
during the food and tax riots in early 1998.
With the ZCTU and urban dwellers marching, and industrialists co-
operating with them, Mugabe could conjure a collusion of workers, whites,
and the emerging phalanx of civil rights non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) and activists against peasants and war veterans. Yet as if planning
a quiet retirement for their leader, Zanu-PF held meetings in late 1998, at
which leadership renewal and a new Constitution to pave a gradual path
for succession were discussed and the construction of a huge retirement
palace authorised.
Zanu-PF almost simultaneously entered the ‘second rebellion’ in the DRC
to bolster its sovereignty against Rwandan and Ugandan infringement.
This became a means of quick accumulation for Zimbabwean army leaders
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and their relatives, while absorbing about one-half of Zimbabwe’s export
proceeds and earning the wrath of the Anglo-Saxon side of the West (Sunday
Independent 08.12.2002; Nest 2001). Approximately 13 000 Zimbabwean
soldiers were transported to the DRC, costing over a million US dollars per
day. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) withdrew its services to the
Ministry of Finance, claiming the misappropriation of its funds for military
endeavours. Economic free-fall accelerated.
At the same time, radical and human rights-oriented lawyers and activists
formed the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an umbrella organisation
uniting scores of socio-economic justice and human rights NGOs mushrooming
throughout the 1990s’ merging of political and economic liberalism. Many of
this new breed of activists had cut their political teeth in university student
politics, which pressured the state to pass restrictive university legislation as
early as 1991. Their ideologies had shifted from a Stalinist Marxism easily
assimilated to Zanu-PF to a more critical Trotskyist brew, along with a vibrant
liberalism emanating from other corners of the law faculty. The NCA took on
ZCTU leader Morgan Tsvangirai as its leader, cornered Zanu-PF into a public
constitution-drafting process (in which the NCA refused to participate because
the commission was dominated by Zanu-PF acolytes), took a leading role in
the creation of the MDC in 1999, and led Zimbabweans to a February 2000
referendum rejection of Zanu-PF’s executive-friendly draft Constitution. This
signalled the beginning of Zanu-PF’s end. For Mugabe, it was clear he was the
only human being capable of saving the ship.
With a parliamentary election due in early 2000, Mugabe chose to unleash the
allied ‘war vets’ on over 1 500 white-owned commercial farms. Thus, by 2004
the ‘fast-track’ land-reform process settled 127 192 households on A1’ plots
with use rights and common grazing land, 7 260 ‘capitalists’ with leasehold
and a ‘proposed option to buy’, and a few hundred members of the party
elite gaining the news coverage. Productive and white commercial farmers
decreased from 4 500 in 2000 to under 500 in 2004 (Sachikonye 2004: 13–14).
Wheat production fell to 170 000 tons from the former 300 000 average, the
commercial beef herd went down from 1.2 million to approximately 150 000,
inflation increased to 600 per cent, and unemployment increased to well over
80 per cent (Hill 2005: 80). As Rob Davies puts it, Zimbabwean income per
head fell to 53 per cent of the 1996 level: if rates of growth had remained at the
1996 rate, this figure would have been 97 per cent higher (2004: 20).
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Economic conditions improved slightly in the period approaching the March
2005 parliamentary elections, as new Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono
wooed the IMF and the electorate. Pressure from the Southern African
Development Community (evidence that some African heads of state were
uncomfortable with Mugabe) meant that the electoral contest took place with
marginally freer and fairer conditions than those of the 2000 (parliamentary)
and 2002 (presidential) elections, although the poll-counting was fraudulent,
meetings of more than five people had to be granted police permission, there
were no opposition daily newspapers or broadcast media and journalists
needed licensing, and human rights and ‘governance’ NGOs receiving foreign
funding faced banning. However, April to June 2005 witnessed a drastic
slide: basic foods and petrol (the latter costing Z$3 500 per litre officially, but
Z$30 000 on the parallel market) were scarcer than ever, and the underground
exchange rate for the American dollar rose from Z$13 000 to Z$28 000 per
$US1 from March to May. By late August of the same year, as the Zimbabwean
government scurried to win a billion US dollar loan from South Africa
to avoid total abandonment by the IMF, the official rate for the US dollar
had escalated to Z$24 025.31 to US$1, while the underground exchangers
traded at 45 000 to 1. If motorists went to petrol stations owned by Zanu-PF
members they could pay in American dollars directly. If the value of a régime
is measured in its relation to the American dollar, one could remember that
in 1980 when Mugabe came on the scene, surprising everybody with his
magnanimous reconciliatory gestures, the Zimbabwean dollar was worth
twice its American counterpart. Most Zimbabweans probably accepted that
scale for weighing the merits of Zimbabwe now and then: in 2005 life was
90 000 times worse than in 1980.
Within weeks of Zanu-PF’s ‘victory’ the negative consequences of Mugabe’s
continued reign were increasingly clear. Furthermore, Zanu-PF was entering
a phase of ethnic consolidation, threatening repetition of its historical purges
(Chinembiri 2005). On all of this sat a 2000 to mid-2004 toll of 128 murders,
37 attempted murders, 3 849 incidents of torture, 619 abductions and
kidnappings, 2 042 arrests and detentions, 712 assaults, 259 displacements, 26
rapes, 33 disappearances, and 190 death threats all committed in the cause of
Zanu-PF’s continuing leadership (Feltoe 2004; Reeler, 2004). Add to this the
arrests of 22–30 000 urban siya so (‘leave it as it is’ or informal sector) and
the destruction of their homes and businesses in Operation Murambatsvina
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(‘drive out the rubbish’) after the 2005 elections demonstrated little urban
support for Zanu-PF. Between 200 000 and 300 000 were homeless in the
middle of winter (Business Day 07.06.05; Sunday Times 05.06.05).
Constraining powers
How can one stay in power during such a political mess? At one level, analysts
might expect a leader to take an easy exit at such a time: if, as some observers
say, South Africa had offered Mugabe a haven, or there was a one-way ticket
to Malaysia (a Mugabe-friendly regime) available in 2000, why would he not
accept it? There is certainly a tendency for leaders of Mugabe’s ilk to think
‘after me, the floods, even as storms and floods worsen under their tutelage.
When he himself had so much to lose – with a truth and justice commission
looming – his perception that he must maintain the course for party and
country’s anti-colonial history was unshakeable.
However, psychological conjecture can only take one so far. A list of the factors
militating against the foreclosure of this phase of Zimbabwe’s history must be
compiled. More than on Mugabe himself, it must focus on the elements in the
domestic and global political envronment, overlapping as they must, which have
constrained the power of those who want Mugabe to go. These constitute the
terrain of the conjuncture: the complex concatenation of events and processes
adding up to a ‘structure’ on which political actors operate to gain and maintain
power. By 2005, the events and processes of the ever-deepening Zimbabwean
crisis conspired to convince enough global, regional and domestic power brokers
that Mugabe must stay – or that removing him would create more problems than
ever. The actions of these people on the accumulation of the past’s pile of dry
bones and untold truths have further complicated this complex crisis.
Inside Zimbabwe, there are at least eight reasons why Mugabe is still in power,
each requiring extensive treatment. They are listed here, with indicative
elaborations and citations, in order to suggest the incredible hold this man
and his small cabal have over that country.
There is no other leader for Zanu-PF
Mugabe has created a situation within Zanu-PF in which he is practically
irreplaceable. This is partly due to his desire and ability to manipulate
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uncertainty, from which he gains the power to assign posts to the Politburo,
the Cabinet, and the 30 MPs he appoints after elections to that assembly.
These seats make it virtually impossible for an opposition party to gain the
two-thirds required for constitutional change. The staggered presidential and
parliamentary elections contribute to legislative deadlock: the president has
to sign all parliamentary Bills before they are enacted. He also made alliances
with forces outside of government, for example, the war veterans. In Mobutu-
like fashion, he has granted extensive corruption opportunities to key figures
at certain moments, only to flag their crimes when they need to be sidelined
– sometimes into prison. Also like Mobutu, Mugabe brought people close
to his power centre, but expelled them as they posed a threat (for example,
the Tongogara mystery, Edgar Tekere’s expulsion and, more recently, the
jettisoning of one-time eminence grise and Minister of State for Information
and Publicity in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Professor Jonathon
Moyo, along with long-time security aficionado Emmerson Mnangagwa,
when they got too close to the vice-presidency). As the leadership issue
remained indeterminate, all the above factors contributed to internecine
ethnic contests. Successors rarely emerge from such conflagrations except
through force. With unclear norms for succession, even the leader’s death does
not solve the problem.
The adept manipulation of coercion, ideology and allies
Although neither a ‘military’ man nor a facile ideologist, Mugabe has forged
alliances with those with the ‘power of the gun’ by replicating their ideology
(for example, the vashandi) and meeting their political desires. He dispenses
with such allies when they are no longer useful, or threaten his power. The
Tongogara case exemplifies this, as do the ‘war vets’. By 2004 their leadership
had been replaced, those who attempted nominations at the Zanu-PF primaries
were summarily replaced by the party centre’s (usually female) choices, and
by 2005, new settlers were subjected to a rural Operation Murambatsvina,
purportedly implementing Hernando de Soto’s universal dream of private
property rights (Financial Gazette 09.06.05; Moore 2004a).
Military leaders maintain allegiance to the notion that those who participated
in the liberation war are the only people entitled to rule. Now with access to
the material benefits of the war in the DRC and its aftermath (apparently the
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21-year-old son of the army commander owns a transport jet that takes food
and clothes to the DRC, returning with diamonds) and the artificial foreign
exchange rate, their links with the current leadership are even tighter: they
too would face criminal charges at an accountability session. Tight links are
maintained between Mugabe and the ‘retired’ General Solomon Mujuru,
known as Rex Nhongo during the liberation war. As official Zimbabwe
People’s Army head, he played a crucial role in consolidating Mugabe’s
alliances. He was reportedly the first guerilla commander to understand that
‘the gun is money’: while hunting for elephants in Mozambique to feed the
starving guerillas after the vashandi interlude, he also shot rhinoceros and sold
their horns in the Middle East. In December 2004 Mujuru’s wife was made the
second vice-president of the ruling party.
Zanu-PF’s chameleon ideological qualities may flow from its early reliance
on Chinese, American and British – and Tanzanian – support to counter
the Soviet-backed Zapu (the latter’s accumulative tendencies little stalled by
flirtation with scientific socialism). Its role as a counterpoint to the African
National Congress (ANC) – it was allied with the Pan African Congress
and feared a Zapu-ANC alliance – and reluctance to allow the USSR an
embassy may have allowed the West to overlook the gukurahundi and Zanu-
PF’s ‘Mao-Tse-Tung-Marxist-Leninist-(Christian Socialist)-thought’. Mugabe’s
propensities for perfecting propaganda made him once appear an enthusiastic
structural adjuster, just as, more recently, his anti-imperialist, pro-sovereignty
and ‘look east’ discourse appeals to African, other ‘Third World’ and Chinese
politicians when the United States’ war in Iraq and Chinese economic power
incline much of the world towards such linguistic facility. He also appeals to
some African-American ideologues (Democracy Now 2005; Horne 2001: 285).
Election time violence and trickery
Since 1980 Zanu-PF has adeptly employed all the tricks of election management
(Kriger 2005). Its tactics range from gerrymandering urban seats to rural,
combining pure violence (the threat of the 50 000 strong ‘Green Bomber’
youth militia, by 2005 incorporated into the police, is significant) and subtle
intimidation, including the control of food aid, to convincing people that the
new computers brought into rural schools at election time monitor votes.
The ruling party has developed an array of strategies confounding NGO civic
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educators and regional and international efforts to create states imbued with
‘good governance’ and all the other accoutrements of liberal modernisation
– including threatening to ban ‘imperialist’ NGOs and allowing only civil
servants to carry out electoral education. At the end of the 2005 vote –
structured by a years’ old voters’ roll – the count was well calculated to
guarantee victory4 (The Zimbabwean 15.04.05; Agence France Presse 13.04.05).
The strategies are usually discovered by opposition parties and others, but by
the time the information is released, or presented as evidence at lengthy trials
presided over by a Zanu-PF-appointed judiciary awarded with large farms, it
is too late. The relevant international adjudicators, sympathetic observers all,
have already judged the elections as ‘free and fair’ or ‘legitimately reflecting
the will of the people’ and have turned to efforts to hammer out an ‘élite
pacting’ process.
The opposition cannot win
By 2005, the MDC leadership was virtually paralysed by Zanu-PF’s election
strategies and may have been unable to manage the links between Zimbabwean
civil society and international support that buoyed up the party during its
first few years. Indeed, the party was hardly able to decide to participate in
the farcical 2005 elections – in August 2004 it ‘suspended’ participation, but
re-entered the campaign in February 2005. By 2004, the international players
alleged to have backed the MDC since 1999 thought its leader a ‘buffoon’.5
Few remaining white commercial farmers still embraced the MDC as an icon
of non-racialism (and a way to keep their land), and its radical base in the
unions and among students and the urban unemployed became increasingly
frustrated too. To be sure, there is every reason to believe that if the three
elections from 2000 to 2005 had been ‘free and fair’, the MDC would have
been in office. Without that avenue, and while the ‘international community’
refused intervention, the question (or the issue) for the MDC became how
to manage the relationship between extra-parliamentary opposition and the
trappings of liberal democracy.
Commenting on urban demonstrations about the lack of water in Harare’s
townships and manifestations of discontent in the soccer stands in May 2005,
the weekly Zimbabwe Independent (13.05.06) advised the party to learn South
African history lessons. The editorial claimed that in the 1980s:
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South African demonstrators linked arms and marched against the
apartheid regime in a well-organised and disciplined way led by
bishops and other notables. Can Zimbabweans achieve that level
of commitment and discipline in expressing their displeasure with
Mugabe if there is no strong leadership?
As with young men of the opposition who were by then advocating going to the
bush to fight the current régime, the Independent forgot the changes between
then and now – and omitted to mention the fact that the ‘well-disciplined’
marchers and bishops were supplemented by tyre-burners and even more
disciplined cadres dedicated to making the apartheid cities ‘ungovernable’. On
the international front, by the late 1980s and the demise of the ‘communist
threat’, the West had found apartheid dispensable. South Africa promised to
bring a dose of democracy to Africa. Zimbabwe’s opposition carries fewer
hopes for the imperial arbiters of democracy: Zimbabwe does not promise to
inspire the rest of Africa and it has no oil.
By 2004, most of Zimbabwe’s cities were ‘ungoverned’, albeit in a sense other
than the earlier situation in South Africa under the ‘young lions’. The West has
had little success exporting ‘democracy’ to Africa (witness Zambia and Kenya)
so is unlikely to risk more in Zimbabwe than encouraging an opposition to
learn the ropes (Southall 2003). The logic of liberal democracy is to mediate
subaltern civil society and political parties with the parliamentary form: thus
the democracy think-tanks discourage ‘mass action’, moderate though the
Independent thinks it could be – as do the members of opposition parties with
a stake in Parliament and, possibly, business. Neo-liberal economic policies
would not be easily implemented in a working-class-based party swept to
power on the strong backs of the masses. Thus the MDC is not worth the full
support of ‘the imperialists’.
Yet with its radical advice, the Independent also cited mistakes made during
previous protests. The newspaper blamed criminals for the 1998 food and
surtax riots, during which seven people were killed. And the mid-2003 ‘final
push’, when the MDC and civil society were supposed to march to State House
and bring it down, fizzled.
The days after the March 2005 illustrated the strategic and tactical rethinking
needed in the opposition. In a twist on radical international solidarity, some
NGO activists hoped that the strong mass action they predicted would
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encourage the United States to take sterner measures against Zanu-PF.
However, it soon became clear that if mass action did ensue – and the ‘if’ is
crucial given the severe hunger of the population – it would demand tight
organisation. In early April, an e-mail letter from an MDC supporter in
Chitungwiza, a ‘city’ of over a million people south of Harare, indicated the
potential problems of mass action:
MDC members in the streets yesterday singing and chanting
slogans suddenly started beating people and much worse steal-
ing from people found on ATMs. I really was disappointed to be
assaulted by my party people. They just said, ‘Let’s go big man’…
They started kicking and clapping me so much that I am finding
some difficulties in chewing food. Some are saying they are Zanu-
PF youth purporting to be MDC. But…they were also beating up
members of the police force, soldiers, prison service, and anyone
putting on Zanu-PF T-shirts. There is going to be a lot of violence.
I don’t know what will happen.
No matter: Zanu-PF’s Operation Murambatsvina demonstrated the ruling
party’s ability to pre-empt any concerted street action. The hundreds of
thousands whose homes had been bulldozed were corralled in camps such
as the ‘Caledonia’, while the régime tried to convince the rest of the world it
would build new houses for them all and get rid of illegal money-changers
with one sweep of the broom (Tibaijuka 2005).
The ‘personal rule’ perspective might portray Robert Mugabe believing
himself a Christ-like figure driving out the money-changers. Materialists
would argue his party was creating new wealth for the military and sending
propitious signals to the global money managers. They see the armed forces’
top ranks getting the new property titles and running the rebuilt ‘formal’
market stalls; and the IMF meeting the Zimbabwean Reserve Bank while
Mugabe’s minions were ‘cleaning up the trash’ would be convinced that
the monetary system would be cleansed, too. A more multi-dimensional
perspective might see a party and its leader lashing out in a paroxysm when
there is everybody to punish, because there is so little to accumulate when
everybody is so poor. Added to that is the fear that an organised opposition
will take even that away.
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Given Operation Murambatsvina’s convulsions, it is hard to blame the opposition
for the lack of a revolutionary response. Perhaps better communication within
the broad alliance made up of the MDC, NCA and the ZCTU was needed.
As one Zimbabwean observed, there are few of ZCTU’s ‘real’ workers left and
those remaining in the unions were ill-equipped to organise the siya so: worse,
more than a few Zimbabweans believed Zanu-PF’s claims that the money-
changers supposedly being routed were the root of the inflationary crisis.
In any event, criticism of the broad alliance’s response ignores the mugged
Chitungwizan’s perspective: violence is hard to channel. When it does emerge,
police and army forces, convinced their targets are imperialist agents, repel
it. The muted response to Murambatsvina is understandable. However, when
combined with the MDC’s lacklustre parliamentary performance, one realises
there is little challenge to Zanu-PF on any score. Samuel Huntington’s ‘order’
has thus replaced the idea of ‘democracy’ in Zimbabwe (Huntington 1968;
O’Brien 1972).
The cultivation – or betrayal – of the intellectuals
Despite his string of degrees, many consider Mugabe an intellectual manqué.
However, he has a devoted corps of hegemonic organisers – Zanu-PF’s ‘organic
intellectuals’ – trained very well. The exceptions are the brave journalists on
the banned Daily News, religious figures such as Bulawayo’s Bishop Pius Ncube
(although some of his peers have blessed the régime and received a farm), and
those balancing academic and legal work with action in organisations such as
the NCA, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the hundreds of organisations
under these umbrella groups. The remainder of Zimbabwe’s intellectuals are
putty in Mugabe’s hands. In the process of manufacturing hegemony for
themselves and for an ‘overdeveloped state’ serving their interests, they risk
becoming a parasitical state class (Gramsci 1971; Saul 1979).
In Zimbabwe, their history is intimately tied up with the struggle for
liberation and its consequent career. Perhaps Mugabe’s intellectual aspirations
encourage emulation among the less powerful acolytes, forced to write instead
of wielding real power.
Besides the musicians employed through the state broadcaster’s Zimbabwe-
anisation policies, a list of some ‘traditional and political’ intellectuals
supporting Mugabe includes the following prominent figures.
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Mugabe has convinced Dr Ibbo Mandaza, inventor of the ‘schizophrenic state’
thesis and a Zanu-PF ‘maverick’ publishing and editing the South African
Political Economy Series Trust and the Mirror newspaper group (seven days
weekly), that in spite of its flaws Zanu-PF is the only party keeping Zimbabwe
on a ‘leftist’ path (Mandaza 1986).6
Professor Sam Moyo, formerly of the South African Political Economy
Series Trust, now managing the African Institute for Agrarian Studies and
consulting on land reform, publicly supports the régime. He stated the ‘Green
Bomber’ militia were ‘above party politics…there is nothing sinister about it’
(Solidarity Peace Trust 2003: 17). He believes the ‘fast-track’ land reform will
create a small agrarian capitalist class, warranting what he contends are Zanu-
PF’s relatively mild human rights infringements.7
Fay Chung once directed education in the liberation camps. Later Minister
of Education, she was demoted to the Co-operatives Ministry after criticising
structural adjustment policies. She claims that ‘the problems Zimbabwe faces
today would be there with or without Mugabe, and traces them to structural
adjustment policies encouraging Zanu-PF leaders to accumulate wealth. The
MDC believes in ‘the same bankruptcy’. She believes that Mugabe and Zanu-
PF must allow new people with new ideas to enter the scene, but they will
come from Zanu-PF and be developed in a ‘fraternal rather than fratricidal’
way, inevitably fostering ‘political diversity’ (Chung 2004: 247).
Trevor Ncube was the most surprising intellectual to support Mugabe in his
hour of (pre-election) need. As a Zapu university student leader in the early
1980s, he had encountered Mugabe’s repression first-hand. Ncube’s editorship
of the Financial Gazette newspaper in the late 1980s was, in his own words,
the ‘only opposition’.8 Yet by 2005, publishing South Africa’s Mail & Guardian
as well as Zimbabwean weeklies the Independent and the Standard, Ncube
appeared to be the only person in those circles supporting Zanu-PF – albeit
grudgingly. In an article in the Mail & Guardian (19–24.03.05) entitled ‘Only
Mugabe can save Zim’, he wrote:
Never since independence has Zimbabwe desperately needed
President Robert Mugabe as much as it does now. The country, the
ruling party and the opposition are all in chaos and only he can
get the nation out of this hole. Zimbabwe faces an acute leadership
crisis that only Mugabe has the capacity to resolve, if he so decides.
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The article claimed that tribalism had divided Zanu-PF, in the wake of what
are arguably Mugabe’s own debilitating choices. However, Ncube does not
place blame on him, saying only that ‘correcting this [intra-Shona] ethnic
imbalance will require the skills that Mugabe evidenced after the 1987 Unity
Accord’. Contemplating Zimbabwe’s fate if the MDC won the elections, Ncube
was scathing: ‘the hugely divided and inexperienced new party…is not yet
prepared’ to repair the ‘mess of more than two decades of misrule’. Worse,
trade unions ‘claim the party…and are marginalising other factions such as
allied civil society, the student movement and intellectuals’. Conflicts between
Ndebele and Shona also threatened the MDC’s unity. In the face of all this,
‘Mugabe could bequeath to Zimbabweans a stable, patriotic and purpose-
driven ruling party’.
Zimbabwean pundits suggested that Ncube might be aiming for the post
of Minister of Information. Some recalled Ncube’s dislike of trade unions
and the MDC, while others noted his attempts to construct a ‘third force’ of
intellectuals (Zimbabwean political talk meaning a new party). All of these
guesses illustrate many Zimbabwean intellectuals’ political motivations, and
how they buttress Mugabe’s position.
Mugabe enjoys the support of some full-time academics, including Professor
Ngwabi Bhebe, the vice-chancellor of Gweru’s new Midlands State University
(a position with ministerial status). There are three aspects of Bhebe’s (2004)
biography of the late Vice-President, Simon Muzenda, that work to preserve
Mugabe’s and Zanu-PF’s power while simultaneously preparing a place for a
faction of the party wishing to work beneath Mugabe’s throne until he dies on
it. The book depicts Muzenda as a man of ‘immense humanity’ – this despite
the fact that his lieutenants nearly killed the candidate challenging him in
Gweru in 1990, and in 2000 he told his constituents that they should vote for
a baboon if Zanu-PF ran one. The second may be the creation of a place in
Zanu-PF’s pantheon for Emmerson Mnangagwa, who at the time of the book’s
writing appeared to be slated for the presidency. The third is to resurrect
the reputations of some members of the 1978 ‘Karanga’ or ‘Hamadziripi-
Gumbo coup’ referred to above, while also ruining those of history’s counter-
hegemonic forces.9 This sort of history reinforces the patterns of power that
have led Zimbabwe to its present cul-de-sac, thus preserving the president’s
position. Indeed, it almost guarantees its perpetual repetition.
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Disguising political aims with the pretence of scholarly disinterest, such
‘intellectual’ work may do more for Mugabe’s ‘patriotic hegemony’ than
his strident screeching against imperialism – especially when lauded by
international scholars (Ranger 2004, 2005). It also points to the tendency of
praise-singing to lie when retelling Zimbabwe’s history.
The chiefs
The chiefs in the communal areas have extensive political and economic
control through their ability to ‘monitor’ voting and to allocate land. In
Zimbabwe they seem to be under Zanu-PF control. Promises of four-
wheel-drive vehicles, secretaries – actually CIO officers monitoring them
– computers and salary increases replicate many of their past allegiances to
the settler-colonial régime. Their appointment to parliamentary positions in
Mugabe’s block of 30, and indeed their own administrative posts, mean they
are part of the extensive ‘patron–client’ relationships which keep Mugabe in
power. The MDC’s alleged advocacy of private tenure relations (although the
party’s promise of a land commission might water down that belief) would
threaten their hold on land and labour.
Peasants and potatoes
Rural peasants are also prone to support Mugabe (although increased
coercion in the country indicates that this is not guaranteed). Some are ‘new
farmers’, grateful for their plots, albeit so inadequately serviced that they need
a plot in the communal areas as well. Their residence in the communal areas
means that they are subject to chiefly control, and Zanu-PF’s ‘carrots and
sticks’ are more meaningful in the rural areas where there are higher levels of
HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, and even starvation. Many urban dwellers, reminiscent
of Marx’s comments about peasants having no more commonality than
potatoes in a sack, think their ‘rural brothers’ let them down by not voting
MDC: they forget about the ‘Green Bomber’ terror, the food for votes, and
the control of chiefs. Perhaps Operation Murambatsvina’s ruralisation will
backfire, stopping Mugabe’s rural-urban divide and rule. As Chabal and Daloz
(1999) remind us, however, induced poverty among the peasantry and the
urban lumpenproletariat often maintains the elite’s power (1999).
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The international comrades
There are as many international as domestic components contributing to the
mystery of Mugabe’s holding on to power, but we will discuss a minimum of
these factors here. Mugabe’s manipulation of the South African president and
other African statesmen cannot be ignored. According to William Gumede,
the Nigerian rejection of Thabo Mbeki’s 1995 entreaty not to execute Ken
Saro-Wiwa has remained with him until today. Thus Mugabe can lie to him
about his plans to set up a government of national unity or to retire, in the
knowledge that Mbeki will, although angered, do nothing. In addition, the
ANC’s desire to avoid the example of a working-class-based power on South
Africa’s border, combined with fears of looking like a Western-oriented
regional sub-imperialist and being sympathetic to white farmers at home
as well as abroad, works in Zanu-PF’s favour. The MDC’s visits to South
Africa’s imperious opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, did not help
the situation either, although Gumede claims that the ANC was approached
first (Gumede 2005: 178–9, 184). Furthermore, Mbeki and his policy-makers
would like to see Zanu-PF change from within, although according to some
Zimbabweans South Africa’s policy of non-intervention does not extend
to a prohibition on exacerbating what it sees as tensions within the MDC’s
leadership.
Overarching all of these concerns – even McKinley’s (2004) guess that South
Africa’s stance on Zimbabwe is overdetermined by its corporations’ interests
in either not upsetting its investments, ensuring new ones are available at
rock-bottom prices, or more generally bolstering its economic domination of
the continent – is the sanctity of African leaders’ fragile fig-leaf of sovereignty,
allowing them freedom to abuse as many human rights as they wish,
unmolested by nosy neighbours or do-gooding humanitarians. It is bolstered
by the ideology that only a concerted battle for ‘liberation’ got them to this stage.
This belief system contends that its ‘anti-imperialist’ aspirations remain true.
Thus African leaders continue ‘observing with a blindfold’, as Susan Booysen
noted of South Africa’s supine election observers (The Star 11.04.05). The only
signs against this tendency have been the fact that many African members
of the Commonwealth voted not to reinstate Zimbabwe at the December
2003 meeting in Abuja, that the African Union nearly adopted a statement
condemning human rights abuses in July 2004, and that in Mauritius in August
2004 progress was made towards SADC’s imposition of conditions for free and
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fair elections in its countries. Balanced against this, however, is Mbeki’s desire
to appease African politicians in his quest for a seat on the United Nations
Security Council, or for more power in the African Union. All of these raisons
d’état add up to a defence of non-intervention. Perhaps in the long run, too, it
is best for Zimbabweans to settle their own fate, although allowing parastatal
corporations to constantly defer payment on their electricity bills (as does
South Africa’s Eskom) and to support election cheating and violence may not
be the best way to encourage vigorous self-reliance.
As for South Africa and the continent, so with the rest of the Third World.
Mugabe’s ‘looking east’ discourse is nothing new. Zanu-PF’s days in the
liberation struggle were heavily imbued with Chinese ideology and military
training. Now, its ventures with Malaysian capital gains positive exposure in
the Asian media. Perhaps, too, Zanu-PF’s authoritarianism fits in with China’s
new mode of capitalist expansion.
With the United States’ preferred methods of democratisation in Iraq on
display, perhaps it is not surprising that paranoid politicians in southern
Africa fear similar displays of imperial overstretch. China’s imperialism
through zhing-zhong (Zimbabwean for ‘shoddy goods from Beijing’) and
fighter jets undoubtedly appears preferable to a ruling class with a tentative
grip on power.
As far as other Western powers are concerned, the situation in Zimbabwe
has not evoked much more than hand-wringing (Britain’s historical ties
may be exceptional, as might be Blair’s ineptitude). In the cynical calculus
of international diplomacy and humanitarianism, the few hundred corpses
produced by Zanu-PF running amok come nowhere near the hundreds of
thousands in Rwanda and Darfur, or the millions dead in the war in the DRC
– about whom the ‘Western citadels of freedom and liberty’ have done so little.
It is perhaps deemed best in the West to let the Zimbabweans learn democracy
the hard way.
Conclusion
Truth and reconciliation and/or justice commission or not; special retirement
office or not; subtle and quiet South African pressure for a government of
national unity or not: as of October 2005, it does not look as if Mugabe will go.
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This chapter has sought to show why. Heavy coercion, mixed with support
from just enough of the critical class forces in Zimbabwe today, in combination
with international allies and a global move away from ‘democracy at any cost’
– all Mugabe needs to do is to impose private property rights on his new
farms and he will have the IMF eating out of his hands again – allow the
president the luxury of escaping from the many compromises of his past
and present. Cocooned in an ideology that propelled him to power, he does
not even have to justify his prolonged stay. If there is a rational kernel to his
party continuing to support him, it lies in the strings of patronage and fears
of implosion without the great helmsman. Rationality aside, Mugabe’s jump
from the material to the mystical in his post-2005 election interview with
South Africa’s fawning state broadcaster indicated a self-enclosed world: ‘Yes,
Mugabe replied to a leading question about the role of service improvements
in his ‘victory’, ‘our services have been improving, but our people voted for
principle. We liberated our people. They won’t forget that’ (South African
Broadcasting Corporation News 03.04.05). It is on such pedestals that power
rests. What does it take to knock them down?
Notes
1 This was Mugabe’s reply to a query about retirement at the press conference on
31 March 2005 after the parliamentary victory (The Guardian 04.04.05). Three weeks
later he announced, in Indonesia, a 2008 retirement at the end of his presidential term.
2 ‘Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to President Bush on DR Congo’; available at
http://www.group.yahoo.com/group/africadaily3/message/10296. 28 March 2001.
3 Interviews suggest that during party discussions on the unity issue on the night
before this ‘accident’, Tongogara advocated unity with Zapu. When Mugabe asked:
‘Who would then be leader?’ Tongogara said ‘the senior’ – meaning Nkomo.
4 Sokwanele (2005) What Happened on Thursday Night: An Account of How Zanu-
PF Rigged the Parliamentary Elections, Special Report, April 5: available at www.
sokwanele.com; Bond P & Moore D (2005) Zimbabwe: Elections, Despondency
and Civil Society’s Responsibility, Pambazuka News, April 7, available at
www.pambazuka.org/index.php?id=27627.
5 This was indicated in interviews with anonymous interviewees with close access to
the British Commonwealth and Foreign Office and the US State Department, in
London and Washington in September and October 2004.
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6 Confirmed in an interview with I Mandaza, Harare, August 2004. In late 2005,
Dr Mandaza’s newspapers were taken over by the Central Intelligence Organisation.
He challenged this takeover legally, but remained a Zanu-PF member.
7 Interview with Prof. Sam Moyo, Harare, July 2004.
8 Interview with Trevor Ncube, Johannesburg, July 2004.
9 The book claims Edgar Tekere demanded Hamadziripi and Gumbo’s execution. In
an interview in Harare in August 2004, Tekere denied this. Muzenda’s henchmen
tried to kill the Zimbabwe Unity Movement’s co-leader.
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